Excessively lenient sentences lessen respect for the law
Stabroek News
January 22, 2002

Dear Editor,

While the carnage on our country's road continues to raise widespread public concern we are confronted with the excessively lenient sentence which Magistrate Fitzgerald Yaw imposed when he recently fined Andrew Persaud of Fort Street, Kingston $75,000 for driving dangerously and causing the death of two persons two years ago, whilst the other accused, Terry Persaud, had reason to smile on gaining his acquittal despite being directly involved in the criminally reckless drag race on the busy Vlissengen Road.

I had thought that an environment of zero tolerance for death dealing drivers was coming into being with the Mothers In Black campaign over one year and some 28 weeks, numerous letters to the editors, other outpourings of public disquiet, police efforts at enforcement, and even public statements on the issue by the Home Affairs Minister. Yet lo and behold, we find a magistrate who seems totally out of sync with the climate of public opinion.

In an article in Reader's Digest, Jan. 2001, titled "America's Worst Judges", the relevant point is made that in return for the power and independence accorded the judiciary, citizens rightly expect a high standard of personal and official conduct from their members. "When these men and women abuse their authority or are excessively lenient, they lessen respect for the law - and can cause ordinary people to suffer."

Stabroek News of October 11, 2001 had a story headlined "Chief Justice writes to magistrate over causing death fine" in which it was reported that censorious letters to the editor and disapproving comments by members of the public were sparked off by the $15,000 fine handed down to Orin Fraser in the case of the death of veteran footballer, Walter Moses, in a dangerous driving incident. It was also another two-year trial and another of Magistrate Yaw's decisions. Since then, Mr. Editor, I don't recall seeing your necessary follow-up story on such a matter of weighty public concern and now the issue of excessively lenient sentencing is again in the public domain.

Further, in my view and that of countless others, the protracted one-year and two-year trials which seem to be the norm before the Traffic Magistrate are counterproductive and place unreasonable burdens on witnesses while delaying justice for relatives of road fatality victims and other virtual complainants.

But in the case now under public scrutiny, we must wonder whatever could induce such lenient sentencing - being more motivated to show mercy to the accused than being committed to dispense justice to the victims?

However, it's a positive sign that persons are expressing serious objections and utter disgust at the decision of the court in this case because it is essential that as many as possible join in resisting all tendencies to settle into a culture of accepting prevailing conditions.

Yours faithfully,

Lloyd Cummings